In the pilot episode, “The Lady in the Bottle”, astronaut Captain Tony Nelson, United States Air Force, is on a space flight when his one-man capsule Stardust One comes down far from the planned recovery area, near a deserted island in the South Pacific.
On the beach, Tony notices a strange bottle that rolls by itself. When he rubs it after removing the stopper, smoke starts shooting out and a Persian-speaking female genie materializes and kisses Tony on the lips, shocking him.
They cannot understand each other until Tony expresses his wish that Jeannie (a homophone of genie) could speak English, which she then does. Then, per his instructions, she “blinks” and causes a recovery helicopter to show up to rescue Tony, who is so grateful, he tells her she is free, but Jeannie, who has fallen in love with Tony at first sight after being trapped for 2,000 years, re-enters her bottle and rolls it into Tony’s duffel bag so she can accompany him back home.
One of the first things Jeannie does, in a subsequent episode, is break up Tony’s engagement to his commanding general’s daughter, Melissa, who, along with that particular general, is never seen or mentioned again. This event reflects producer Sidney Sheldon’s decision that the engagement depicted in the pilot episode would not be part of the series continuity; he realized the romantic triangle he created between Jeannie, Tony, and Melissa would not pan out in the long run.
Tony at first keeps Jeannie in her bottle most of the time, but he finally relents and allows her to enjoy a life of her own. However, her life is devoted mostly to his, and most of their problems stem from her love and affection towards Tony, and her desire to please him and fulfill her ancient heritage as a genie, especially when he does not want her to do so.
His efforts to cover up Jeannie’s antics, because of his fear that he would be dismissed from the space program if her existence were known, brings him to the attention of NASA’s resident psychiatrist, U.S. Air Force Colonel Dr. Alfred Bellows. In a running gag, Dr. Bellows tries over and over to prove to his superiors that Tony is either crazy or hiding something, but he is always foiled (“He’s done it to me again!”) and Tony’s job remains secure.
A frequently used plot device is that Jeannie loses her powers when she is confined in a closed space. She is unable to leave her bottle when it is corked, and under certain circumstances, the person who removed the cork would become her new master. A multiple-episode story arc involves Jeannie (in miniature) becoming trapped in a safe when it is accidentally locked.Eden with husband Michael Ansara as The Blue Djinn (1966)
Tony’s best friend and fellow astronaut, United StatesArmy Corps of Engineers Captain Roger Healey, does not know about Jeannie for several episodes; when he finds out (in the episode “The Richest Astronaut in the Whole Wide World” [January 15, 1966]), he steals her so he can live in luxury, but not for long before Tony reclaims his status as Jeannie’s master.
Roger is often shown as girl-crazy or scheming to make a quick buck. He occasionally has hopes to claim Jeannie so he can use her to live a princely life or gain beautiful girlfriends, but overall he is respectful that Tony is Jeannie’s master, and later her husband. Both Tony and Roger are promoted to the rank of major late in the first season. In later seasons, Roger’s role is retconned to portray him knowing about Jeannie from the beginning (i.e., to him having been with Tony on the space flight that touched down, and thus having seen Jeannie introduce herself to Tony).
Jeannie’s evil fraternal twin sister, mentioned in a second-season episode (also named Jeannie – since, as Barbara Eden’s character explains it, all female genies are named Jeannie — and also portrayed by Barbara Eden, in a brunette wig), proves to have a mean streak starting in the third season (demonstrated in her initial appearance in “Jeannie or the Tiger?” [September 19, 1967]), repeatedly trying to steal Tony for herself, with her as the real “master”.
Her final attempt in the series comes shortly after Tony and Jeannie are married, with a ploy involving a man played by Barbara Eden’s real-life husband at the time, Michael Ansara (in a kind of in-joke, while Jeannie’s sister pretends to be attracted to him, she privately scoffs at him). The evil sister wears a green costume, with a skirt rather than pantaloons.
Early in the fifth season (September 30, 1969), Jeannie is called upon by her uncle Sully (Jackie Coogan) to become queen of their family’s native country, Basenji.
Tony inadvertently gives grave offense to Basenji national pride in their feud with neighboring Kasja. To regain favor, Tony is required by Sully to marry Jeannie and to avenge Basenji’s honor by killing the ambassador from Kasja when he visits NASA.
After Sully puts Tony through an ordeal of nearly killing the ambassador, Tony responds in a fit of anger that he is fed up with Sully and his cohorts and he would not marry Jeannie if she were “the last genie on earth”. Hearing this, Jeannie bitterly leaves Tony and returns to Basenji. With Jeannie gone, Tony realizes how deeply he loves her. That outweighs all concerns he has had about Jeannie’s threat to his career.
He flies to Basenji to win Jeannie back. Upon their return to NASA, Tony introduces Jeannie as his fiancée. She attires herself as a modern American woman in public, and it is easily accepted that Tony has a girlfriend. This changed the show’s premise: instead of to avoid Jeannie’s exposure, it was to hide her magical abilities.
This is contrary to the mythology created by Sidney Sheldon’s own season-two script for “The Birds and Bees Bit”, in which it was claimed that upon marriage a genie loses all of her magical powers.
Barbara Eden as Jeannie
Larry Hagman as Captain/Major Anthony “Tony” Nelson
Bill Daily as Captain/Major Roger Healey
Hayden Rorke as Col. Dr. Alfred Bellows
Philip Ober as Brig. Gen. Wingard Stone (season 1, episodes 1 and 4)
Karen Sharpe as Melissa Stone (season 1, episodes 1 and 4)
Henry Corden as Jeannie’s father (season 1, episode 2)
Barton MacLane as General Martin Peterson (seasons 1–4)
Emmaline Henry as Amanda Bellows (seasons 2–5)
Abraham Sofaer as Haji, master of all the genies (seasons 2–3)
Vinton Hayworth as Maj. Gen. Winfield Schaeffer (seasons 4–5)
Michael Ansara as The Blue Djinn (season 2, episode 1), also as King Kamehameha (season 3, episode 19), last as Major Biff Jellico (season 5 episode 12) and directed “One Jeannie Beats Four of a Kind” (season 5 episode 25)
Barbara Eden as Jeannie’s evil fraternal twin sister, Jeannie II (seasons 3–5)
The role of Jeannie’s mother was played by several actresses: